Yesterday, we debuted the Midterm Update to our Philadelphia Flyers Top 25 Under 25, in which we're conducting a mid-season ranking of the top young players in the Flyers' organization.
Today, we continue onward in that countdown, as we look at the players ranked from No. 20 to No. 16. Onward!
20. Mark Friedman
Following a promising freshman season at Bowling Green, Friedman got off to a slow offensive start in 2015-16. During the first ten games of the year, Friedman was only able to manage two points (both assists), a far cry from his 0.49 points per game pace last season and especially disappointing for a defenseman known for his offensive instincts.
But just like the Flyers, Friedman's point production came around in the middle of November. He's scored 14 points (4 goals, 10 assists) in his last 17 games, while playing in all situations for the Falcons. In addition, he's been one of the ice time leaders on a particularly stingy Bowling Green blueline corps - a great sign for a player who has been criticized in the past for supposed defensive shortcomings.
Friedman remains overshadowed by the "Big Five" of Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg in the Flyers' blueline pipeline. As a result, it's easy to forget that Friedman comes with the pedigree of a third round pick - the same round where the Flyers nabbed Gostisbehere. And aside from his quickly-improving statistics, Friedman passed the BSH eye test as well. Back in July, he was one of the most impressive defensemen at Flyers development camp (at least to my eyes), showcasing aggressive instincts and great recovery speed in one-on-one drills. He may have a tough road ahead of him in terms of breaking through in the Philadelphia organization considering the Flyers' prospect depth on the blueline, but with his offensive game back in gear and his defense showing tangible signs of improvement, he's certainly on the right track.
-- Charlie O'Connor
19. Mark Alt
Three years since being traded to the Flyers from Carolina, now in the final year of his entry-level contract, Mark Alt is largely still the same guy that he's been for much of his time in the Flyers' organization. He's not a particularly flashy defenseman and is never going to be one who tallies a ton of points, but he's been steady and a good defensive presence with the Phantoms for a while now.
Alt received a single-game call-up late last season when the Flyers were decimated with injuries, but otherwise has been in the AHL for his entire pro career. It's unknown where he currently sits in the potential call-up pecking order if there are more injuries to the Flyers' defense, but at this point, the clock is certainly ticking on the 24-year old's chances of becoming a regular NHLer.
However, Alt has shown significant value to the Flyers and Phantoms this year in one particular way -- a way that can be seen through the guy that he's been playing alongside in Lehigh Valley. In late October, Phantoms coach Scott Gordon paired Alt next to prized defensive prospect Samuel Morin, and the two have played next to one another almost exclusively in the three months since then -- a rarity, given how frequently teams and coaches are forced to tinker with lineups in the AHL.
Phantoms assistant coach Riley Cote told Highland Park Hockey's Tony Androckitis that the pair has been the team's most consistent pairing while frequently facing the other team's top opponents. Given the learning curve that many expected Morin to follow, the fact that he's already getting that kind of trust from the coaches shows the progress he's made. Alt's presence alongside him for it shouldn't be brushed aside, and my guess is that the Flyers know this.
The organization clearly sees Alt -- a smart, simple kind of defenseman who skates well and makes good decisions -- as someone that the young guys on the farm can learn from. Given the Flyers' current situation, with all of their talented young defensemen on the cusp of the NHL, there's a lot of value in that. While we still don't know if Alt will ever break through and establish himself at the NHL level, there's reason to believe the team may look to keep him around after his entry-level deal runs out this year.
-- Kurt R.
18. Radel Fazleev
After being the 168th overall (6th round) pick in the 2014 draft, Radel Fazleev stayed right on par for the course in his next season. Fazleev had 25 points in 38 games in his draft year, and continued that pace with 51 points in 71 games last season for the Calgary Hitmen.
This season, the Russian forward is taking a big step forward. He showed off a bit of his skill on the international stage, with a goal and two assists in seven games for Team Russia at the World Junior Championship in Finland.
He has been putting up numbers in the WHL as well. Fazleev is on pace to shatter his 51 points from last season. He already has 46 points in 37 games for the Hitmen, with 14 goals and 32 assists.
Fazleev was touted as having raw skills and creativity in the offensive end, and we are finally starting to see those results after two so-so junior seasons. He has gone multiple games without a point just three times this season, and has put up points in 25 of 37 games, showing that he is consistently helping his team win.
He is just 20 years old, and this should be his last year with the Hitmen before joining the professional ranks next season. The sixth-round flier pick could turn out to be a great thing for the Flyers.
-- Ryan Gilbert
17. Danick Martel
Martel has had a good season thus far with the Phantoms, sixth on the team in scoring and second in goals. I had the opportunity to watch him at development camp this summer, and I've caught a few Phantoms games so far, so I believe I've got a decent handle on what kind of a player he is now and what type of player he could possibly become.
Martel possesses a speed that is dynamic, making him a "blink and you might miss him" type of skater. Not only is he fast, but he's able to stickhandle really well while absolutely flying out there, which is no easy feat. As with any undersized guy, though, there's always the question about whether or not they'll be able to stand up physically against bigger and stronger competition, but he's holding his own at the AHL level. He's scored a majority of his goals by putting in rebounds right in front of the net and by hovering around the crease looking for someone to feed him the puck. Also, he's feisty enough to fight a kid who's got half a foot and about forty pounds on him. Sure, he took a beating, but you've got to like his spirit!
Martel's also gone on record saying that his work ethic is what sets him apart, outworking players in the corner to come away with the puck and persevering even though some may devalue him because of his size. He was passed over in juniors, he was passed over in the NHL, but he's got a good footing in the AHL now. It seems like he's the type of guy to put in the work.
He's a nifty little player, someone with great speed and awareness, and good hands to match. It's hard for me not to get excited about a guy like Martel because everything from his stature to his skillset reminds me of Danny Briere. He's still young, he still has room to grow and develop, so there's a distinct possibility that he tops out as a top six AHL winger, but Martel could definitely be one of steals that people look back on and say "how did every other team miss him?" And after all, if there's something the Flyers organization could use, it's an injection of speed.
-- Allison J.
16. Nick Cousins
For just over a year now, Cousins has been playing some excellent hockey in the AHL. After a fairly slow start to his AHL career, Cousins began scoring at an impressive rate around Christmas in 2014, and kept that up for months. He tallied 42 points in 35 games between December 17 and March 16, when he received a late-season call-up to the Flyers.
He's largely continued his strong production from last season at the AHL level this year, tallying exactly a point per game in 36 AHL contests. He's shuffled between different lines a bit, but has largely been alongside either of Taylor Leier or Petr Straka for much of the season, helping them achieve the strong seasons that they have. He was also named an AHL All-Star.
Cousins was again called up to the Flyers on Thanksgiving, playing in four games alongside fellow Phantom Colin McDonald before being sent back down. In his 15 games between this and last season, Cousins (while mostly playing in just fourth-line minutes) is still looking for his first NHL goal and point, but has generally skated well and looked the part of an NHLer.
So where and when does he factor into the NHL team's plans? It's tough to imagine that the team believes that Cousins -- the Phantoms' most efficient scorer over the past two years -- has a whole lot more to prove at the AHL level. He'll be re-signed this summer and will have a chance to compete for an NHL roster spot next year in training camp. And maybe he'll just stick with the Phantoms until then, helping them make a playoff push. But with the way the bottom-6 is currently floundering in Philadelphia? If Ron Hextall is looking to upgrade that group without making a trade, then there's a decent chance that Cousins' third NHL stint may begin before this year ends.
-- Kurt R.
How we voted spots 20 to 16:
|20||Mark Friedman||Felix Sandstrom||Radel Fazleev||Nicolas Aube-Kubel||David Kase||Reece Willcox||Mark Friedman||Danick Martel|
|19||Danick Martel||Radel Fazleev||Mark Alt||Mark Friedman||Radel Fazleev||Radel Fazleev||Mark Alt||Matej Tomek|
|18||Radel Fazleev||Tyrell Goulbourne||Taylor Leier||Jesper Pettersson||Mark Alt||Merrick Madsen||Felix Sandstrom||Mark Friedman|
|17||Mark Alt||Oskar Lindblom||Danick Martel||Mark Alt||Felix Sandstrom||Taylor Leier||Radel Fazleev||Radel Fazleev|
|16||Petr Straka||Danick Martel||Petr Straka||Anthony Stolarz||Robert Hagg||Oskar Lindblom||Petr Straka||Petr Straka|